Pick of the Week:
The Walk (Sony)
Each week, the talk of what and what won’t will be up for an Oscar seems to shift as often as the winds. But for an example of how underperformance at the box office can take a very good, often excellent film out of the discussion, look no further than The Walk. (Or Steve Jobs, depending on your tastes.) Directed by Robert Zemeckis, the film tells the true-life story of daredevil acrobat / romantic madman Philippe Petit’s high-wire walk between the two towers of the World Trade Center in 1974. It’s the same story covered in James Marsh’s excellent documentary Man on Wire, but Zemeckis’ film doesn’t feel the least bit redundant. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s accent work takes a moment to get used to and the film takes a while to get going. But the last half provides thrill after thrill, recounting the heist-like deception needed to get Petit to the top of the towers, the elaborate machinations required to string a wire across the chasm, and, ultimately, the walk itself. In IMAX and 3-D, the effect was gut-wrenching, another example of how Zemeckis is an underrated master both of film mechanics and cutting-edge technology (Polar Express aside). How will it play at home? Hard to say. Those with 3-D televisions might be better off than those without it and Sony has also launched an app called The Walk VR Experience, for both iOS and Android designed to send those with VR viewing devices a trip high into the 1974 skies (it also works, though presumably less well, without such devices). Still, even if the small-screen can’t help but dull some of the finale’s impact, it’s a well-told tale of an improbable, and probably crazy, dream that came true.
The Complete Lady Snowblood (Criterion)
Quentin Tarantino has never been shy about sharing his influences and the presence of the theme song to the 1973 Japanese hit Lady Snowblood in Kill Bill Vol. 1 provided a pretty strong clue that Tarantino might have looked to that film for guidance. And, boy, did he: Lady Snowblood, now receiving a nice Blu-ray and DVD release from Criterion, is in many ways not just a key film to Kill Bill, but to every Tarantino film that’s followed. Meiko Kaji plays the eponymous protagonist, a woman tasked from childhood with exacting revenge on the four villains responsible for killing her father and raping her mother. Like Tarantino heroes to come, she takes the job seriously while never quite hiding the fact that her obsession hasn’t yet killed her soul. Director Toshiya Fujita breaks the film into chapters, nests flashbacks within flashbacks, and takes a new wave-inspired, whatever works approach to style, mixing elegant compositions and beautiful sets with gritty handheld camerawork and very-’70s zooms and a soundtrack that places score music inspired by the late 19th-century setting with jazzy cues that look to Dave Brubeck and Lalo Schifrin. The Complete Lady Snowblood contains both the original film, adapted from a manga by Lone Wolf and Cub writer Kazuo Koike, and its 1974 follow-up Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance. The latter’s a lesser, but still interesting sequel that dials down the experimental touches, but ups the original’s use of the Meiji era to critique abuses of power in every period.
With a plot that joins pulp theatrics to ripped-from-the-headlines details of the drug war, Denis Villeneuve’s thriller seems at times on the verge of spinning out of control. But it’s kept grounded by some stunning action setpieces, Roger Deakins’ cinematography and, especially, by stars Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, and Emily Blunt. The elements combine in a nightmarish depiction of the battle between authorities and the drug cartels and the moral gray space in which that struggle takes place.
The Visit (Universal)
The word around this found-footage horror movie about a pair of kids visiting their estranged grandparents for the first time pegged it as M. Night Shyamalan’s comeback, and audiences responded by turning it into a hit. Big problem: It’s actually pretty lousy. The found-footage conceit feels tortured even by the sub-genre’s standards. (It’s hard to be scared when you’re thinking about how carefully the shots from the two cameras the protagonists tote at all times have been edited together.) But it also robs Shyamalan of the chance to do what he does best. The director’s early films established him as a master craftsman, and plenty of that remained in later efforts, even if the stories didn’t live up to his skills behind the camera. A few effective sequences don’t make up for a lot of tedium and a pair of obnoxious kid leads, one of whom raps. More than once. You’ve been warned.
The Green Inferno (Universal)
Eli Roth released a pair of films back-to-back last year, the Keanu Reeves-starring Knock Knock and this long-delayed movie about activists who meet terror in the Amazon. The Blu-ray and DVD features Roth’s director’s cut. Given how off-putting most critics found the version that made it into a theater, it might be something of an endurance test.
True Detective: The Complete Second Season (HBO)
First it was a hilarious meme. Then a bunch of episodes that most viewers found pretty disappointing. Now it’s on Blu-ray and DVD.